Recovery and resilience of tropical forests after disturbance

20 May 2014

Lydia E. S. Cole, Shonil A. Bhagwat & Katherine J. Willis

Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3906 doi:10.1038/ncomms4906 Received 16 July 2013 | Accepted 17 April 2014 | Published 20 May 2014

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The time taken for forested tropical ecosystems to re-establish post-disturbance is of widespread interest. Yet to date there has been no comparative study across tropical biomes to determine rates of forest re-growth, and how they vary through space and time. Here we present results from a meta-analysis of palaeoecological records that use fossil pollen as a proxy for vegetation change over the past 20,000 years. A total of 283 forest disturbance and recovery events, reported in 71 studies, are identified across four tropical regions. Results indicate that forests in Central America and Africa generally recover faster from past disturbances than those in South America and Asia, as do forests exposed to natural large infrequent disturbances compared with post-climatic and human impacts. Results also demonstrate that increasing frequency of disturbance events at a site through time elevates recovery rates, indicating a degree of resilience in forests exposed to recurrent past disturbance.